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Rochester police leaders outline protest 'rules of engagement' 

click to enlarge Protesters and police clashed in Rochester on May 30, 2020.

PHOTO BY GINO FANELLI

Protesters and police clashed in Rochester on May 30, 2020.

As Rochester’s Police Accountability Board begins its look at how city police handled the Daniel Prude protests last summer, the department released a statement Wednesday on its stance on protesting and mass gatherings.

Titled "Rules of Engagement for Gatherings and Protests," it said the department “respects the rights of our citizens to peacefully protest as the constitution allows” but warned that “if violent acts or crime occur during any protest, the crowd will be asked to disperse.” It also noted that it would be unlawful to disobey that order.

How city police handle protests gained attention after the public outcry about Daniel Prude’s death. Prude’s death after an encounter with police in March became public about six months after it happened. Thousands hit the streets in response. That is likely to repeat in the near future, as the grand jury's decision on the Attorney General's investigation into Prude's death is expected soon.

The department used PepperBalls, flash bangs and tear gas to disperse them after the protests were declared unlawful and everyone was asked to leave.

During a news conference Wednesday, interim Police Chief Cynthia Herriott was asked whether the department would handle a similar situation differently. Herriott said it depends on how protesters behave.

“On one hand, I say it jokingly, but seriously: sticks and stones, you know,” said Herriott.

“But on the other, there has to be a point where staff can make a decision on how threatening that behavior is," Herriott said. "If we set up certain barriers and areas and people intentionally cross those out of the free speech area, if you cross that into an area that has been barricaded, then that changes the tone.”

“I have to be able to empower our people to make those decisions,” she added.

Herriott also addressed the Police Accountability Board's announcement that it was launching a probe into last fall’s clashes between protesters and police. She said she understands the need to investigate the incidents, but she intends to take care of it internally.

“That’s their purpose, and we’ll do what we can to support (the investigation) with the information they need to look into those kinds of things," she said. "My goal is by the time that they’re done looking into it, that we’ve addressed any issues and we’re on to the next.”

James Brown is a reporter at WXXI, a media partner of CITY.
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